My Picks for the Top Ten Animated Shows of the 2010s
By the time 2010 rolled around, almost all the cartoons I loved watching had ended their runs. As a result, I thought I grew out of them and started getting into documentary channels. Thankfully, the 2010s saw an animation renaissance that dragged me back into cartoons. I have no regrets whatsoever.
As we close out the 2010s, I thought it would be appropriate to look back on the decade’s animation renaissance. Thus, I’m giving you my picks for my top ten favorite cartoons of the 2010s. But first, some ground rules:
- The shows have to have started after January 1st, 2010. Shows that started before then don’t count.
- Each of these picks are shows that I watched. I know this means I’ll miss great shows like Bojack Horseman, but that’s how it is. Sorry in advance
- I’m not counting anime. A show can be anime-esque or based on it, but anime itself is off the table.
With that out of the way, let’s get started!
Adventure Time (2010-2018)
What time is it? ADVENTURE TIME! In 2010, this gem created by Pendleton Ward premiered on Cartoon Network. Telling the story of Jake the shapeshifting dog and Finn the human boy, Adventure Time follows their adventures in the magical, post-apocalyptic land of Ooo. However, as time passed, the show began to build itself into something more than a cartoon.
Thanks to a combination of a strong supporting cast, deep mythology, overarching stories and willingness to tackle mature themes, Adventure Time became a massive hit for Cartoon Network. In fact, I largely credit it for kickstarting this animation renaissance, with Cartoon Network benefiting the most. In addition, many of the show’s staff went on to create equally popular shows like Steven Universe, O.K. K.O.! Let’s be Heroes, Over the Garden Wall, and more. This show was amazing, and it’s legacy will no doubt be felt for decades to come.
Avatar: The Legend of Korra (2012-2014)
I consider Avatar: The Last Airbender to be one of the greatest cartoons of all time. Thus, imagine my joy when I learned Nickelodeon was making a sequel called The Legend of Korra? Taking place 70 years after the end of A:TLA, Legend of Korra, the show follows the titular character as she fulfills her role as the new Avatar. However, Korra has to face enemies that make her question if the Avatar has a place in the world anymore.
Aside from continuing the story of my favorite cartoon, I loved Korra for multiple reasons. Firstly, it knows that the returning fan base were now teens and young adults. As such, it wasn’t afraid to touch on darker issues that reflect real world history like inequality, oppressive governments, and fanaticism. Secondly, it expanded upon the already rich world of its predecessor, adding more backstory. It even goes so far as to show us the Avatar’s origins, which is really cool. Thirdly, there’s plenty of callbacks to the original show.
Sadly, the show suffered from a scheduling problem during its run. By Season Three, they started dropping the episodes in huge chunks; then midway through it, they move it exclusively to streaming. As a result, the show ended sooner than necessary. It’s still a good show, but this move by Nick makes it less impactful in the end.
DuckTales! (2017- Present)
Of all the reboots I’ve seen to classic shows, the 2017 reboot of DuckTales! may be one of the best. This reboot reimagines the cast and premise of the classic 80s cartoon for a new generation of fans. The end result is a cartoon that captures the spirit of its predecessor while being able to stand as its own thing.
I’ve made my love of DuckTales! known in the past, so I’m going to bullet point what I like most about it.
- The callbacks and references to the original show and the Disney Afternoon cartoons of the 80s and 90s
- The art style’s reminiscent of 1950s comics
- The voice cast is incredible. They gave the Triplets different voice actors and personalities
- Della Duck becomes a prominent character
- That theme song!
Bottom line, this show’s worth watching.
Gravity Falls (2012-2016)
Disney’s first, and likely biggest, success from this decade’s animation renaissance, Gravity Falls is to the Mouse what Adventure Time is to Cartoon Network. The show follows the twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend their summer vacation in the titular Oregon Town. However, they soon find out that the place is a magnet for weirdness and supernatural phenomena. With their new friends and con-artist Grunkle Stan, the two (mostly Dipper) work to uncover the mysteries behind the town and the danger threatening it.
Speaking of which, Gravity Falls revolves around mysteries. Creator Alex Hirsch loved throwing in mysteries and clues for fans to solve, from ciphers in every episode to a real-life scavenger hunt following the series finale. As a result, Gravity Falls attracted a large adult fan base that still supports the show years after it ended. In addition, like Adventure Time, several people who worked on Gravity Falls have gone on to create their own successful shows. Given the influence it’s had on Disney, it’s safe to say that Gravity Falls remains one of the most important cartoons of the 2010s.
Regular Show (2010-2017)
Don’t let the title fool you; it’s anything but. Regular Show follows the lives of Mordecai and Rigby, two slacker best friends working together in a second-rate Park. At least, they’re supposed to; in reality, they try to find ways to get out of work. This usually leads them to get into surreal misadventures that they have to get out of.
As a millennial and a young adult, J.G. Quintel’s creation really spoke to me. On the surface level, Regular Show was laden with pop culture references that many millennials would understand. However, underneath the surreal nature and references, it was a show about two guys going through the trials of young adulthood. It was goofy, heartfelt, and exciting, and an all-around good time. Heck, they even made going into space for the final season entertaining. Most shows would have jumped the shark by doing that!
Rick and Morty (2015- Present)
Few shows have ever been as amazing as Rick and Morty. Then again, I don’t think we’ve ever had a show like Rick and Morty. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s sci-fi comedy follows the adventures of the titular duo. Rick’s the cynical genius who does whatever he wants because he knows nothing matters, and Morty’s his well-meaning but naive grandson. Now name a sci-fi story or scenario, add them in, and you’ve got Rick and Morty.
As I’ve made clear in the past, I’m a huge fan of Rick and Morty. It’s the show that’s not afraid to ask deep, philosophical questions while doing the absolute dumbest things. It’s funny and low-brow, yet also intelligent and philosophical. Also, it’s the show that single-handedly forces McDonald’s to bring back their Szechuan dipping sauce. I can’t think of another show that can do that! Rick and Morty is awesome!
RWBY (2013- Present)
The only web-based show on this list, Roosterteeth’s mega-hit RWBY has been called the first Western anime. In a world filled with dark creatures called Grimm, people called huntsman and huntresses battle to protect the people. The series itself follows the members of the titular team RWBY, Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, as they become huntresses and protect the world from evil.
Created by the now deceased Monty Oum, RWBY’s become one of the most popular anime in the world. I can’t even count how many people I see cosplaying the characters at conventions. I think part of the appeal comes from how it crosses various genres of anime. It’s got all the action and epic music of Shonen, the premise’s reminiscent of the magical girl genre, and the first three seasons are like a high-school/slice of life.
My favorite thing about RWBY, though, is how its existence shows how prevalent the influence of anime has become. Instead of merely importing it from Japan, now we’re exporting it to Japan! If you haven’t seen RWBY yet, I recommend you watch it. It’s a great gem of the ongoing animation renaissance.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010-2019)
Who knew that a show about traditionally girl toys would turn into a cultural phenomenon? My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was created by Lauren Faust and served as the fourth iteration of the My Little Pony line. It follows the adventures of six friends as they learn about the importance of friendship and being nice to each other. That may sound lame on paper, but in reality, it’s really good.
Despite being aimed at kids and being about a toy line meant for girls, MLP: FIM broke the mold. The show was filled with a lot of action, the characters had three-dimensional depth to them, and was genuinely fun to watch. It made it cool for boys and adults to like things traditionally meant for girls. That alone makes it good enough to put on this list. In addition, it had some all-star talent working on it, like Tara Strong as the lead role.
Steven Universe (2013-Present)
Whereas shows like Legend of Korra and MLP opened the door on gender norms, Steven Universe knocked down the door, and the wall for good measure. The show follows the titular character, a half-human, half-alien boy, as he grows up and learns about himself and his place in the world.
It would be an insult to say that Steven Universe is nothing short of revolutionary. It goes out of its way to deal with topics few cartoons dared to tackle. From the aforementioned challenging of gender roles to encouraging the acceptance of the LGBT community, Steven Universe has helped change our culture for the better. I’m willing to bet that this show will go down as one of the most important cartoons in history. It’s a shining example of the best this animation renaissance has to offer people.
Star vs the Forces of Evil (2015-2019)
Considering how much it’s been brought up on this blog, it should be no surprise that this wound up being here. Instead of explaining it again, here’s a video that does the job for me:
I’m well aware that the fourth and final season wasn’t as great as it could have been. Furthermore, as much as I love how the finale lets Star and Marco remain together, I know some fans didn’t like it. That said, let’s not forget that at its peak, Disney was pushing Star vs as it’s flagship cartoon on Disney XD. When the 2-hour TV movie “The Battle for Mewni” premiered, it was trending on Twitter. In short, yes the show could have stuck the landing better. However, I don’t think it detracts from the fact that it was a good show. The fact that so many people want more of Star vs serves as a testament to how good it can be. If Disney does more with it, I’ll be thrilled. Until then, I still think it’s one of the best cartoons of the decade.
Also, there’s some really good fan fiction of it out there.
The 2010s Animation Renaissance
So, do you agree with my picks? For that matter, do you agree that this decade saw an animation renaissance take place? If I didn’t mention a cartoon you like, then leave a comment telling me about it down below. I know I missed a lot! Happy New Year!
Click here to see my other animation stuff.